Global Coworking Unconference Conference held a session, titled How We Gather- New Communities Of Meaning And Belonging, on Day 1. The speakers, Casper Ter Kuile and Angie Thurston, are Fellows at Harvard Divinity School. They discussed how the new landscape of communities- from CrossFit to coworking spaces- are replicating traditional religious functions.
They began with discussing the massive trend of religious disaffiliation nationwide. The millennial generation is less affiliated than any generation before them. They can not identify themselves with any particular group. It’s not that the questions that we as human beings grapple with are disappearing or are being answered, it’s just that the institutions that have housed religious traditions are no longer meeting the needs of people. A massive institutional crisis exists. An estimated 3500 churches close down every year. The way in which younger people are engaging with institutional life is changing very rapidly. There are cultural crises and dramatic spiritual homelessness.
CrossFit is a branded fitness regime, which is a relatively large organization compared to religious communities, and they promote spirituality through their services. The workout of the day is a shared workout that occurs in every single part of the world that has CrossFit boxes and some of the workouts have names that are kept after fallen heroes- soldiers, policemen etc. There is a ritualizing of the dead through this practice. The owner of CrossFit did not want the place to turn into a mercantile center because it would kill the energy of the place. People at CrossFit are a strongly knit community. A culture of belonging and ethical formation takes place here.
Artisan’s Asylum is another place that is open round the clock where people come to make robots, jewelry, wood working etc. and these are people from a wide range of backgrounds, experience, generations. For some it is a hobby, for others a profession. But they all come together in a community. People come together to encourage and challenge each other to grow. Since it is open at all hours, it resembles a sanctuary. People go there at 3 am and start wielding with other people, whereas they could have been doing something dangerous such as self-harming! People also start to take leadership roles. They celebrate holidays, where everybody brings something for others. Not only are people’s creative skills enhanced but people develop this sense of compassion for their fellow Asylum members.
In both these groups, people are there to help each other, regardless of the circumstances. One of the main aspects of religion is how it advocates for the rights of the marginalized. And what happens in places like Artisan’s Asylum is that the community starts to be mobilized around social justice. CrossFit helped elect a California senator who opposes the sugar industry. Despite the fact that these communities are across sectors, there is this common language that they all use. It is about social and personal transformation, accountability, being invested in each other’s goals, purpose finding etc.
There are centuries of examples of people who have been co-living and co-working in the most enhanced possible way. There is a lot to learn from the past on how to run the present co-working systems and to build relationships of honesty and form impactful collaborations. These groups want to build an infrastructure for belonging and becoming for the isolated millennials.